James MacDonald: What Does it Mean for God to Love Us?

A Few Key Texts on Love

In his book Love or Die, Alexander Strauch provides a list of fifty key texts on love. I’ve greatly appreciated the reminder of the importance of the theme of God’s love, and thought I would share a few from Strauch’s survey:

Ex. 34:6
The Lord…proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”

Deut. 6:5
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deut. 7:7-8
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you…but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…

Jer. 31:3
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

1 Cor. 13:2
If I…understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.

Eph. 5:2
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

1 John 4:10
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

But, what is perhaps my favorite passage on God’s love (aside from 1 John 4:10) is Ephesians 2:4-10:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Whenever and wherever you’re reading this, it’s my great hope that you would find as much joy in reading and meditating on these passages as I have.

Book Review: Agape Leadership

agape-leadership

Recommended: Leadership fueled by Christlike love transforms everything it touches.

One of the greatest benefits of reading biographies of departed saints is learning from the experiences of people who you’d never have the opportunity to meet. R.C. Chapman is just such an individual. Relatively unknown today, Chapman is a man all believers would do well to see a role model in our pursuit of holiness.

In Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman, authors Robert L. Peterson and Alexander Strauch introduce us to Chapman and his commitment to not only preaching Christ, but living Christ.

And live Christ he did.

Chapman was a man committed to love. He loved God wholeheartedly, making prayer and study his top priority, every day. He exuded patience and gentleness. He loved people and desired to maintain unity within the church.

This book is a hard one to review in some ways. It has challenged me more than any other book I’ve read in about a year, and it’s just packed with helpful, timely material. But, one of the stories I found most helpful and intriguing was that of the Ebenezer Chapel split:

Ebenezer Chapel, a member of the Particular Baptist denomination, had gone through three pastors in eighteen months prior to Chapman’s arrival. The Particular Baptist denomination held that you could not receive communion or be a member (p. 29). Chapman, finding no basis for this in Scripture, believed that baptism was a response to and public witness of conversion, but not something that prevented a professing believer from membership or communion. He patiently and gently taught the Scriptures, and slowly brought about change within the congregation. Inevitably, though, there were some who would not agree with him and seceded from fellowship.

These seceders then demanded that Chapman’s group (the majority of the congregation) move out of the chapel building because it was no longer being used in accordance with Particular Baptist practices.

What was Chapman’s response? One would expect a fight; there was no provision in the building’s deed requiring them to move. Legally, they would be in the right to stay.

“Chapman decided that the loving, Christlike response would be to give up the building. He viewed the situation as equivalent to giving up one’s coat to someone who demanded it… the congregation relinquished their rights to the building in 1838″ (p. 33). Such a thing would be unheard of today!

But this is the example of  a man who truly loved God and truly loved people. He gave up his rights for the sake of love and unity. Amazing!

And that’s just one such example. As the congregation was in the process of purchasing a plot of land, the Church of England made a claim on it. When Chapman’s view of the last days came into conflict with that of his elders’, he refused to teach contrary doctrine for the sake of unity within the church(!).

Despite being a short and fast read, Agape Leadership is a difficult one because it’s so convicting. Chapman seemed to exude holiness (indeed, a complete stranger referred to him as a “holy man of God… who anyone can see is going straight to heaven” [p. 22]). Truth be told, I am reminded of how short I fall. But I’m also encouraged to pursue humility. To repent of my pride and my selfishness and love God with all my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength; to love my neighbor as myself.

Read this book and be transformed by the example of the man Spurgeon called, “the saintliest man I ever knew.”

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

John Piper: God So Loved the World, Part 1

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Made in the Image of God: Wisdom, Emotions & Morality

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” Genesis 1:26

As we continue to look at humanity bearing the image and likeness of God, we come to the next way we image God: Through intellect, emotions and morality.

Wisdom and Knowledge

God is wise and full of knowledge. Several passages in the Bible speak to this truth, not the least of which is Isaiah 11:2, which says in anticipation of the coming of Jesus, “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Here God is spoken of (specifically God the Holy Spirit) as being the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, and of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Like God, we have the ability to have knowledge and wisdom (cf. Prov. 1:7). Solomon, King of Israel, was the wisest man ever to live (cf. 1 Kings 4:30-34). Jesus commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness in using unrighteous wealth to make friends for himself, commanding His followers to be wise in using money as well (cf. Luke 16:1-13). So we can have wisdom, and we can know truth.

What we cannot know all things fully, nor can we fully understand God’s reasons for why He does what He does. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). The Apostle Paul states, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). So while we cannot fully know yet, we are fully known.

[Read more…]

Book Review: Love or Die

love-or-die

The Revelation to John contains seven letters to the seven churches from Jesus, each with it’s own series of commendations and rebukes. The letter to the Ephesian church reads as follows:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned l the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of o the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” (Rev. 2:2-7, emphasis mine).

In Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church, Alexander Strauch addresses both the theological and the practical implications of the abandonment of “the love [we] had at first” (Rev. 2:4), instructing his readers in both the problem of lost love and how to cultivate love within the church.

Regarding the problem, it’s not so much that the Ephesian church had stopped loving Jesus, it was that their love had become stale, mundane. “They still loved the Lord, but not like they did at first. They still loved one another, but not like before,” writes Strauch (p. 9). Their service was out of obligation, rather than joyful worship. Their study was, perhaps, merely academic, and not transformational. They lacked joy, spontaneity, energy, and creativity. When God’s people abandon their first love, they abandon their ability to love each other. Strauch rightly says that Jesus declares these two are inseparable companions.

But when our love for Christ is diminished, what happens? We tend to drift toward trusting “in external religious rituals, traditions, denominational distinctions, doctrinal correctness, and moralistic rules, while we overlook the essential, foundational elements of love for God and neighbor” (p. 19). We become like the Pharisees who “tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42), Strauch warns. We must, therefore, remember “from where [we] have fallen; repent, and do the works [we] did at first” (Rev. 2:5). We must learn to rekindle our love for Christ and for people.

The second half of Love or Die focuses on how we can rekindle our love. Through the study of love, we gain a better understanding of what the Bible really says about this important issue of the Christian life. Strauch even helpfully provides an appendix containing 50 key texts on love for readers to study and meditate on. By praying “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” (Eph. 3:19), we gain not only an intellectual understanding of His love, but an experiential and ultimately life-changing knowledge of it. By praying that God would grow our love for others, it will grow and overflow. “The more we see how inherently and perversely selfish we are, the more we recognize our need to ask God to help us to love,” says Strauch (p. 39). By teaching love, in our corporate gatherings, homes and small groups, we nurture love. “If you want your local church to be a loving, caring, Christlike church, then you must plan to teach the full spectrum of God’s principles of love… Teach the truth of God’s Word and give people principles of love to follow” (p. 49). We further nurture love in our church and our relationships as we model love, encouraging love in others through our example. Scripture provides several examples of men and women worthy of imitation in this regard, as so the biographies of departed saints such as R.C. Chapman and C.H. Spurgeon. Ultimately though, modelling of Christlike love falls to our church leaders and to Christian parents, says Strauch.

“Church leaders set the tone for the church community. If church leaders love, the people will love. If they are thoughtful, kind and caring, the people will be [also]… If leaders create an environment of love and hold themselves and others accountable to love, the people will flourish spiritually and many will imitate their example” (p. 55). Parents, likewise, who love, serve and reach out to people will, usually, produce children who do likewise.

We must guard love, by guarding ourselves against the temptation to love something else more than we love Christ. As there are many contenders for our love for Christ, we must always be vigilant, guarding our love for Christ against everything, even the cares of “this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). “When you sense your love falling to sleep, take corrective action immediately,” says Strauch. “The longer you wait, the harder it will be to awaken the spirit of love” (p. 62). Ultimately, we must be practitioners of love, not students. An academic knowledge of love is of no benefit if it does not transform our lives. Strauch rightly admonishes us that we must practice love and exhort others to do the same, just as the apostles did over and over again in their epistles. “Obedience to Christ’s commands to love leads to real growth in love” (p. 66). And as our love grows, so to will our joy.

I found this book to be incredibly helpful. Being both an introvert and an intellectually bent person, I was thoroughly convicted by Strauch’s loving and humble admonishment. The truth is, I struggle to love other people. I really (really!) like being alone. But if I’m not cultivating relationships with others and investing in them, encouraging my friends in their faith, I don’t really love them, do I? And if I only cultivate an intellectual knowledge of love, to the neglect of experiential knowledge of love, I don’t really know what love is, do I? I’m spending the next few days going through the study guide, spending time in the Scriptures and praying that God would grow my ability to love Him and others.

One who truly loves is not afraid to say something difficult. Alexander Strauch truly loves Jesus and truly loves the church. Read Love or Die; use the study guide. Study the Word and be transformed.


Title: Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church
Author: Alexander Strauch
Publisher: Lewis & Roth (2008)

The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

The secret of the early Christians, the early Protestants, Puritans and Methodists was that they were taught about the love of Christ, and they became filled with a knowledge of it.

Once a man has the love of Christ in his heart, you need not train him to witness; he will do it. He will know the power, the constraint, the motive; everything is already there. It is a plain lie to suggest that people who regard this knowledge of the love of Christ as the supreme thing are useless, unhealthy mystics.

The servants of God who have most adorned the life and the history of the Christian Church have always been men who have realized that this is the most important thing of all, and they have spent ours in prayer seeking His face and enjoying His love. The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century. God forbid that we should ever make the activity an end in itself.

Let us realize that the motive must come first, and that the motive must ever be the love of Christ.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 253

A Day Off: Celebrating 3 Years of Marriage

wedding

Today is a very special day; Emily and I are celebrating our third anniversary. God has grown us greatly over the last three years, and in this last one in particular. From becoming parents, my change in career, Emily becoming a successful homemaker and illustrator, and so many other amazing changes in our lives… it’s been a great three years, and I’m looking forward to the next 60, by God’s grace.

In honor of this, we are taking the day off and going to the happiest place in Burlington: Ikea! We’re looking forward to a fun morning/early afternoon of shopping and eating Swedish meatballs.

Maybe we’ll find a good deal on a coffee table and a dresser.

Happy Wednesday!

The War on Blogs

I read a few blogs on a regular basis, and, in general, the ones I like are excellent. Insightful, interesting, engaging content. Tim Challies, Justin Taylor, Abraham Piper, Mike Anderson & The Resurgence, the whole team at Evangelical Village… All these guys and so many more do a wonderful job seeking to glorify Jesus through blogging, and for that, they should be commended.

However, I’ve recently seen a very ugly thing happening in commenting habits, that in no way reflects or glorifies Jesus; that being the pushing of agendas that have nothing at all to do with anything that’s being discussed.

Recently, I’ve seen several discussions on a variety of topics derailed into a pro-egalitarianism rant (or more accurately “anti-authority of any kind” rant) on points that had nothing to do with the issue. I’ve seen Christians come out of the woodwork declaring the author a heretic on a doctrinal issue that is a tertiary issue.

My point in addressing this is that it shows a disturbing lack of character in how Christians are engaging the “blogosphere” (I hate the web-speak, so please excuse the quotes).

Our mission in all things is to glorify Jesus.

That includes how we blog.

[Read more…]

Sunday Shorts (05/03)

No Truth Without Love, No Love Without Truth

Albert Mohler recently wrote a stellar article on the relationship between truth and love (that being you don’t get one without the other):

Biblical Christians know that compassion requires telling the truth, and refusing to call sin something sinless. To hide or deny the sinfulness of sin is to lie, and there is no compassion in such a deadly deception. True compassion demands speaking the truth in love–and there is the problem. Far too often, our courage is more evident than our compassion.

Read the rest at Mohler’s blog.

Modern Times

Jesus is the Litmus Test

HT: Evangelical Village

A Question for Wednesday

This is more directed towards the men who might be reading, so ladies out there, I hope you’ll forgive me.

Gentlemen, how are some ways that you show your wife you love her? What are some of the things you do that fail to show that?

Last week, I wrote about why I love my wife, but there’s something I do that frustrates her to no end: When I forget to write things on the calendar, it drives her nuts. It may seem like a small thing, but go with me for a second. When I don’t write something down on the calendar, a meeting, a social event, an appointment, it creates a false expectation for a day or evening. If Emily doesn’t know I’m meeting with a friend, or have a business engagement, she expects me (rightly) to be at home with her and Abigail. She makes plans accordingly.

Last night is a perfect example. I forgot to write down that I was meeting with someone; we talked about it, but because of bus schedules, it caused me to have to leave very early—before I had the opportunity to eat the meal she was lovingly preparing for me and spend some quality time with her.

This was not very loving of me, to say the least.

[Read more…]

Meditations on the Cross

“…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…” 1 Cor 15:3b

I just watched a stunningly powerful Good Friday service, which included a reenactment of the brutal execution of Jesus. Emily and I watched, horrified and captivated. It was not gratuitously graphic, but it was hard to watch, simply because it brings home the reality of the cross that we sorely need.

Listening to the powerful audio rendition of the story of Jesus’ false trial and murder shook me (in a really good way, I think). It pressed upon me.

Sometimes I wonder how seriously we take the cross. We say “Christ died for our sins,” but I don’t know if we fully appreciate the weight of the statement. Some state it as little more than a throw-away line to the declaration of a victorious life. Some rush past it as quickly as possible, remaining unaffected by it. But we dare not do so.

Christ died for our sins.

Christ died for our sins.

Christ died for our sins.

Let these words sink in today, if you happen to be reading this.

Tomorrow, Christians will be celebrating the Resurrection; celebrating the defeat of Satan, sin and death. Celebrating that those who have faith in Jesus have been made new creations, with hearts desiring to worship Him.

But for today, remember that Christ died for our sins—yours and mine. That His death was only necessary because of our rebellion: Our lying, stealing, gossiping, adultery, sexual immorality, hatred, cowardice and pride.

Remember that Christ died, not because you and I are worthy, but because God is.

Remember the cost. The godly for the ungodly.

The righteous for the unrighteous. 

Remember the cost, and praise God for His mercy.

The Arrest

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Matthew 26:36-56

Today, millions of Christians around the world will celebrate the brutal murder of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins. Betrayed, denied, mocked, beaten, and ultimately nailed to a Roman cross—all because of us. And by us.

Let us not make light of the seriousness of sin, particularly as the new day dawns. The cost was high to make God’s enemies His friends. May we worship with hearts filled with thanksgiving as we celebrate our suffering Savior, who cried “It is finished” (John 19:30), and put an end to the curse of death.

And may God bless you as you do.

Why I love my wife

This week has been a good one for us. Emily is recovering well and generally in good spirits (thanks go out to all who have been praying for her). But it’s also been rough for me, simply because I was hit a little more profoundly with the reality of the last two weeks’ events when my good friend Adam (correctly) mentioned, “your wife almost died.”

That really shook me, because while I knew, it hadn’t really sunk in. He was right. She had almost died nearly two weeks ago.

Tuesday night, Emily and I had a hard talk about her not taking the time she needed to take to heal. And I almost lost it emotionally; I just felt like a wreck. I explained to her how I was feeling, that I needed her to slow down as much as she needed to. I begged her to please just let me take care of her. And she did.

The rest of the week was pretty well. I didn’t think about this too much more until Saturday, when I stumbled into a debate on gender roles. It’s strange how the mind connects things sometimes, but… [Read more…]